THE RESULT:  It would be easy to say that one of the best teams in the National Hockey League came into D.C. on a roll and took advantage of a Washington Capitals team that is struggling to score goals, both five-on-five and on the power play.

While that statement is true and accurate, the Caps 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, who Thursday night had a 17-game point streak snapped, was also just another example of the disappointment felt around "America's Hockey Capital", as the hopes of a once-promising season are now getting mired in an almost-desperation to find out "What's wrong with the Capitals?"

Until four days ago, the Caps seemed to have found life once again.  They had a nine-game point streak of their own -- going 6-0-3 during the stretch -- following the seemingly interminable eight-game losing stretch dating back to early December. They defeated arch-rival Pittsburgh in the highly publicized and even more highly dramatized Winter Classic New Year's Day (night).

They even tied for the top spot in their division, a place that no Caps fans thought they would ever have to worry about again in this era.

But the last four days, with an overtime loss to Florida, a butt-spanking shut out loss to division-leading Tampa the next night, and an agonizing 4-2 loss to the league's top team last night, all the "feel good" from that nine game stretch was thrown out the window.

All of the problems of the December swoon have come back to haunt this Washington Capitals team this past week (0-2-1) and in last night's loss.  An aimless and seemingly clueless power play (0-for-3).  Defensive indifference and ineptitude.  Lack of commitment to playing a 60-minute game.  An utter lack of urgency until trailing late in games.

And what's worst: a complete dearth of offensive production from this team's best players.

Don't let last night's furious third period almost-rally confuse you.  It came against a team playing the second of back-to-back road games three time zones from home.

The bottom line last night: two of the three goals allowed came as a direct result of Mike Green getting caught out of position, trying to press the play when he should have been manning his defensive zone.  When a team is struggling to score, they can't afford to have a skilled playmaker trying to join a rush up ice before the neutral zone is cleared.

The last couple of seasons, this team has always been able to rely on their firepower to bail them out of tough situations.  Even last season, during their President's Trophy run, they'd have nights where they didn't play very well, but a handful of overwhelmingly skillful possessions would end up in the back of the net and the team and fans would head home happy.

This year?  Not so much.

Through the first 26 games this season (18-6-2), the Capitals averaged over 3.30 goals per game.  Not quite their pace last season, but still good enough to have them at the top of the conference and top of the goals per game chart. 

Since?  38 goals in 19 games.  An average of exactly two goals per game.  It's remarkable that the team has managed a 6-8-5 record in those 19 games. 

What on Earth has happened to the Caps scoring?  Slumps are one thing.  But systematic shut-downs are a completely different animal.

It certainly doesn't help that Alexander Semin, who led the Caps in goals and was on pace for a career year early has missed the last three games due to injury.  But he stopped scoring goals much before he got hurt. 

Alex Ovechkin has five goals in his last 19 games.  Nicklas Backstrom has zero goals in the same time frame.  Semin hasn't scored in the Caps last 20 games.  Brooks Laich?  One goal in 19 games.  Mike Green's numbers look healthy next to these, but three goals and five helpers in 19 games is far below his career norms.

What was that game 19 games ago that broke the Washington Capitals?  The heartbreaking 2-1 loss at Dallas on Dec. 2, where a game-tying goal by John Carlson was waived off by referee Dan O'Rourke with 7.6 seconds remaining in the game, when Ovechkin was knocked into the paint by defenseman Karlis Skrastins and O'Rourke ruled Ovechkin interfered with the goalie's ability to play the puck, when it was the Dallas defenseman that actually contacted the Stars goalie, Andrew Raycroft.

It was a bad call then.  It apparently haunts the Capitals to this day.

What was another circumstance associated with that game?  It was the first game after the trade that sent Tomas Fleischmann to Colorado in exchange for defenseman Scott Hannan.  It would be remiss to blame Hannan for the Caps scoring drought, but it sure seems like the Caps could use a second-line forward known for having a scoring touch.

What's Flash done since the trade?  How about a point per game (7-12-19, minus-1).

I was all in favor of this trade when it was made.  It seemed like two teams dealing from a position of strength to address a weakness.  Maybe I was wrong.

What's wrong with the Caps?  Nothing a few more goals from their best players wouldn't solve.

But it wouldn't hurt to find a way to break the curse of the Dallas Stars and exorcise the ghost of Tomas Fleischmann.

THE GOOD:  I still think a season of the "A" would have been good for him, but Marcus Johansson has had his moments this season and his one-timer for the Caps second goal was one of those moments.  But it came courtesy of Nicklas Backstrom's best set-up in quite some time.  He drew the D and knew where MJ90 would be almost instinctively. 

Backstrom also had five shots on goal, including a play where Eric Fehr hit him in stride in the first period going hard to the net.  The shot wasn't great, banging into Luongo's pads, but the idea and execution by both players was excellent. 

THE BAD:  Jeff Schultz.  His play has been spotty at best since returning from his broken thumb, and last night was no exception.  He was minus-2 again, out of position on the third Vancouver goal, and he just looks, well, slow.  Maybe it's rust, but he's costing the Caps right now on the back end.

Oh, and did Mathieu Perreault even play in this game?

THE UGLY: Mike Green.  That was the worst game from a supposed All-Star we've seen in quite some time. 

I've largely held off on the Green bashing this season, because he's never really been fully healthy due to a litany of pain and injury, but those shouldn't keep someone out of position, make poor passes, and generally show no urgency on the ice until there's a two goal deficit with time winding down.

THE STATS: Matt Hendricks (5) from Boyd Gordon (4) and John Carlson (14) at 5:50 of 1st. Marcus Johansson (6) from Nick Backstrom (29) and Brooks Laich (18) at 9:21 of 3rd.

NEXT GAME: Sunday at 3:00 pm v. Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center.

CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS

3. Marcus Johansson.  Nice one-timer to get the Caps within one. Only took three draws, but won two.
2. Nicklas Backstrom. Quality assist on Johansson's goal. Five shots on goal. 79% in the dot.
1. Matt Hendricks.  He was flying all over the ice tonight.  He buried his opportunity.

GAME NOTES

Eric Fehr left the game in the third after colliding with teammate David Steckel at center ice on a change.  Boudreau called Fehr an "upper body injury", and would definitely not play Sunday.

Semyon Varlamov saved 31 of 34 shots on goal.

3 comments

  1. GO // January 15, 2011 at 7:42 AM  

    Good post. Dead on regarding Mike Green. I still think bringing Hannan in will prove to be a wise move come playoff time.

  2. Diane // January 15, 2011 at 5:04 PM  

    On the Caps problems

    1) I believe Ovi's been playing with an injury since the Nashville game (wrist slash). He hasn't been the same since.

    2) On Semin, it sounds like he was suffering from a litany of ailments during the month of December even before his latest injury. A) In late Nov, he had a "nagging" problem that caused him to miss some practice; B) Got sick in early December; C) Got injured in Rangers game in mid Dec, missed three games and came back WAY too soon since the Caps were desperate for warm bodies.

    3) While there's been no official report on Backstrom being hurt, I have heard some rumors to that effect.

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